Disaster Drone Smog

Following the horrible explosion and collapse in New York City, Brian Wilson and his private drone achieved some fame by flying about while the rescue crews were at work. The Daily Beast has a very interesting, in-depth interview with Wilson about his action and motives. In Robot Futures I talk about Robot Smog as a portmanteau that may describe a future in which physical robots pervade our physical world with some measure of chaos. There is no question that robotics will eventually have very important roles in rescue operations generally; but the path from here to there, absent sensible legal frameworks, is strewn with drone smog. And apparently the smog will form in the most prosaic circumstances, like your walk in the park, and in the most singular, like a major building collapse in Harlem.  We will see many more polarizing examples of smog, and as innovation continues to accelerate, I am not convinced we can create legal and cultural boundaries quickly enough to keep up with a moving target of invention and boundary-testing.

Open Drone Season?

Joshua Brustein reports in Business Week on a recent NTSB ruling striking a fine for commercial drone flight near the University of Virginia. The specifics of the case are unsurprising because the FAA’s policy recommendations aren’t law; but the back and forth demonstrates just what a legal morass drones will become, and quickly. Our laws simply weren’t designed for pilotless, automated vehicles, and even remote-control flying machines are posing a challenge as they blur distinctions between hobby R/C pilots, commercial operators and of course governmental use that will be ever-more-forthcoming. 

Drones are an example of boundary-breaking technology, and by shattering underlying assumptions that make our sets of laws somewhat consistent, drones shine daylight onto the ways in which new robotic technology will force both legal limits and cultural norms to be re-evaluated constantly. If these technology innovations are already outpacing the speed with which we can change law, just how will we respond in a few years’ time when technology moves us through robotic innovations even faster?


The Cost of Privacy

Yesterday’s Op-Ed in the New York Times by Julia Angwin, Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?, is a short article that cuts to the heart of a central question regarding Digital Labor: will the ubiquity of digital surveillance and behavioral monetization increase a new form of economic privacy gap. Of course, the super-rich already buy their way into a version of privacy that the rest of us cannot afford; but in practice digital labor’s onslaught may increase the numbers on both sides of a privacy divide. Angwin’s comparison to the organic foods market leaves me scratching my head- I think standards and governmental regulations will not change the fact that, opportunistically, we humans are ever-ready to trade a lot of privacy for a bit of convenience, or a small discount at the grocery store. Remember that in a robot future of widespread sensors, every physical behavior will eventually be folded into this labor market- digital labor will become unpaid labor, full stop.